Written by Mackenzie James, Face Forward Outreach Coordinator
It was a warm but cloudy Tuesday morning, as little yellow birds flew past my window. I was quiet and reflective as I drove up the winding roads to the Damascus camp. Immediately, I perked up when I recognized the CYSC coordinator I had been planning my visit with as no other than old friend, Christie Jenkins! She made me feel right at home and like I had been a camper for years. I get the feeling she has that effect on everybody.
Upon arrival, I was given the opportunity to witness the students in their prayer circles, discussing relevant topics to Catholics today and reflecting quietly in their journals. I also got to experience a witness talk about romantic love with just the females of the camp, which was an incredible activity to be apart of and I learned a lot. Seeing every young camper raise their hands in support of each other and belt their hearts out in song made me feel proud to be a young, female Catholic.
After taking part in the spiritual aspect of camp, I was blessed with the opportunity to experience all eight of CYSC’s adventure activities offered throughout a session of camp.
I began at the vertical playground, stretching high up in the air. The female campers, all high school aged, were challenged to climb the obstacles while attached to a rope held by their friends to keep them in place. I witnessed strong women empowering each other to push themselves to new heights—literally! The girls were encouraged by a counselor to shout their “identity” which they identified during an activity the day before, at the top of the vertical playground. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard “I am strong” and “I am enough” being shouted with pride through the woods of Damascus.
After a hike further into the woods, I laughed as I head the faint sound of a group of men singing the melody to a popular Taylor Swift song. I was greeted with open arms by a group of male campers, all high school aged men, pulling a rope to hoist another campmate into the air. I had arrived at the giant swing, and just as I got my camera out to snap a shot of the boy they had hoisted so high into the air, I heard “Surrender your trust to the Lord!” and the giant swing released the boy, sending him through the woods at an incredibly fast speed. Giggles and chanting quickly filled the wooded area as the boys high fived each other on another successful ride.
My third activity was watching a very intense version of capture the flag. Different from the neighborhood days, this version included tribal style paint, obstacles, and a much larger field than any backyard ever provided growing up. Father Swartz led his team to a victory in a human warrior edition of capture the flag. The boys hid behind trees, in fields, and attempted a variety of distractions across the wide landscape of the camp seeking the opponents flags. Through the sweat and competition, I saw teamwork and good sportsmanship. It didn’t matter who won – high fives were given and “job well dones” were said by all.
The high ropes course was by far the most incredible example of trust, friendship, and perseverance that I have witnessed in a long time. I approached the high ropes course with my jaw dropped and was instantly overwhelmed with the massive heights of the course and the young men that were standing so high up on the course – and some with blindfolds! A counselor, serving as the team facilitator, helped push the boys to guide those who were blindfolded through the course all together. Some boys clung to each other while others stretched their legs out to reach the next step of the obstacle. They couldn’t move more than one step from the other, ensuring nobody was left behind. I could not help but relate this to our own lives as young Catholics. Sometimes, our friends might be a step in front or behind us, but when we stop, communicate, and are able to work together, we can all move in unity to reach a common goal.
After many miles of hiking through the woods, I got to slow it down by visiting the sacred art space were incense was being made. This space was absolutely incredible, and CYSC uses it for many different activities throughout each session. A sweet cinnamon scent filled the air as campers were given the chance to reflect and discuss their faith with each other. It truly was a peaceful encounter. The campers were able to bring home their incense and put it somewhere where they could safely burn it and feel closer to God and be reminded of their week at CYSC.
My favorite activity was paintballing. I met some incredible campers who were fierce competitors and did not give up until they were told it was time to leave! The object of the paintball match was to stay in the game as long as you could, rather than standard paintball “once you are hit, you are out” rules. I watched one camper in particular take multiple paintballs to the face mask, but she persisted and continued to play and smiled the entire time. The girls, after they had surrendered, gathered on both sides of the park and cheered on their friends who were brave enough to stay inside. By far the best part of the paintball park was Fr. Eric Garris participating in all of the fun.
As I rounded the corner heading back into the woods, I heard loud claps that sounded like thunder. Curious but also intimidated, I rounded the corner to see Sister Peter Grace, amongst other campers, playing a “Hunger Games” version of arrow tag. The campers were holding giant bows and plastic arrows with rubber ends racing after each other through giant inflatable obstacles. After the game ended, teamwork ensued throughout the stretch of property to find all the fallen arrows. This activity, unlike anything I have ever seen or even done before, officially made me want to enroll in the next session of CYSC. I felt myself starting to get sad that my time at CYSC was coming to an end.
The five story rock wall, the tallest in the state of Ohio, marked my final adventure at CYSC. Standing at the base, I could not even imagine reaching such heights. However, I witnessed a group of campers do just that, while also encouraging each other and building friendships on the foundation of faith and adventure.
My day as a camper at CYSC reminded me that my faith is a never ending adventure and although some paths are more difficult than others along the way, they all lead me closer to God. I learned that a support system, whether it be one or one hundred of my closest friends, can push me to new heights in my life and push me closer to God and further on an adventure. Lastly, it opened my eyes to what an incredible community CYSC is for young Catholics to explore their faith in an interactive, open ended, and incredibly fun and adventurous way!